25 Apr 2007

Heaven (4): Eden, God’s Temple/Palace on Earth

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, eschatology, Exegesis, Heaven, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Kingdom

“Plot” of the Bible

Once we remove the Platonic shades from our eyes and we investigate the biblical narrative we learn that heaven is part of the story from the get go.

Scripture, I believe, is a fully integrated drama or story that is divided into “six acts” or “six chapters.” This story or drama has a plot, a goal or intent. The six acts or chapters are:

Act One is Creation;

Act Two is humanity’s Fall;

Act Three is God’s relationship with Israel;

Act Four is the coming of the Messiah;

Act Five is the story of renewed Israel;

Act Six is the return of Jesus and his New Creation.

We are actually living out Act Five. Each act or chapter informs and shapes the others …and as we will see the ending is deeply tied to the beginning.

Gardens, Temples and the World

This six act drama of divine love tells us that “in the beginning” the Triune God created the heavens and the earth out of love. On the earth God cultivated a paradise for fellowship with his image bearers. In this place shalom reigned between divine and human, humans and animals, males and females. This garden is simply called the “garden of God” by Ezekiel (31.8-9).

This garden is the original holy of holies. Have you ever noticed that the biblical writers constantly use architectural imagery to describe creation? For example we read in Job
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know …
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone
Who shut up the sea behind doors
When I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place …
Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouse of the hail? (38.4-6,8,10, 22)

You will find that the Hebrew Bible speaks of the pillars of the cosmos, heaven’s windows, it is described as canopy or tent. Imagine you are an Israelite in 750 B.C. and you hear these images from the priests and prophets … and the psalmists. Historical context is essential in hearing the Scriptures properly. So hat in your experience, as an ancient Israelite, has cornerstones, doors, bars, storehouse, pillars and a canopy?


The Bible uses the imagery of temples to describe God’s creation and in the Ancient Near East temples were understood to be a god’s palace (and in Hebrew temple and palace are the same word, hekal). When God created the cosmos he created his sanctuary, his palace, a place to dwell! Now God had existed from eternity without “heaven” or “earth.” God did not need “heaven” nor “earth.”  But creatures do and God created out of love as a place the God and creation could dwell, live together.

There are numerous parallels beyond the architectural imagery that have lead biblical scholars to conclude that the Hebrew Bible (a view that is actually common place across the Ancient Near East) understands the Garden as the first temple. Here is a short list:

First, like the tabernacle and temple, Eden is the place of God’s holy Presence. Indeed, it is interesting that even the same Hebrew verbal form (hithpael), hithallek, used for God’s “walking back and forth” in the Garden (Gen 3.8) also describes God’s Presence in the tabernacle. “I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people” (Lev 26.12).

Second, Gen 2.15 says that God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to “cultivate it and to keep it.” The two Hebrew words for “cultivate and keep” (respectively ‘abad and shamar) are usually translated as “serve and guard.” In other places in the Hebrew Bible when these two words occur together they have the meaning and refer either to Israelites “serving and guarding/obeying” God; or (more often) to priests who “serve” God in the temple and “guard” it from unclean things (cf. Num 3.7-8; 8.25-26; 18.5-6; 1 Chron 23.32; Ezk 44.14). Adam and Eve seem to be called to priestly duties in caring for and protecting the Garden of God. When the first couple failed in this task it was left to cherubim to guard the tree of life.

Third, that the Garden of Eden was the first temple is suggested by Psalm 78.69 which explicitly declares that the Temple was built to be “like the earth.” The Hebrew historians tell us that wood carvings in the temple gave it a “garden like” atmosphere. For example 1 Kgs 6.18, 29 says there was “cedar … carved in the shape of gourds and open flowers” and “palm trees and open flowers” covered both the inner and outer rooms (cf. vv. 32, 35).

Fourth, just as Eden’s entrance faced the East (Gen 3.24) and was situated on a mountain (Ezek 28.14, 16) so the temple faced East and was on a mountain … and Ezekiel’s end time temple was to face East and be on a mountain (Ezk 40.2, 6; 43.12). There is a river flowing out of Eden (Gen 2.10), the post-exilic temple did as well (The Letter of Aristeas 89 says, “And there is an inexhaustible supply of water, because an abundant natural spring gushes up from within the temple area” as does Ezekiel’s and Revelation (Ezk 47; Rev 21.1-2).

There are many more parallels between the Garden of Eden and Israel’s temple(s). The Temple is a microcosm of creation itself. When God created the world he fashioned a dwelling where God and his creatures could have intimate fellowship.

That place, Eden, was heaven on earth. God’s dwelling was on earth with his beloved creation. Adam and Eve were placed by God in his house that he built for himself. They lived in the royal palace, a “holy of holies” … the Temple was a little heaven on earth. They were to tend the Garden in the same manner that the priests did the tabernacle and temple. They had unfettered access to God and were free as children running in their own home. There is no altar in this garden/temple because there is no barrier to between God and humanity.

It is no wonder that the rest of the Bible seems to have a longing for the Garden. Longing for the Presence of God that was lost

Pointing to the End of the Story

I opened this blog with a comment on the narrative structure of the biblical text. I pointed out how the ending of the story is very much like the beginning. If what I have said is even remotely accurate (and I believe it is) then when we read that God has made his dwelling with humanity (Rev 21.3) and the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to the earth … we see happening in Revelation what has already happened “in the beginning” in Genesis 1 and 2.
God built a house, a palace, a temple for his creatures and deity to dwell together. That place was in Eden. Revelation tells us that God has made his dwelling again with humanity, the curse has been removed. Humans and deity can live in the same place again. Heaven will once again be on earth.

God dwelling with us … that was the goal from the beginning. Eden was heaven on earth … and God is looking to bring us back to it. The renewed and glorified earth.

Bobby Valentine

11 Responses to “Heaven (4): Eden, God’s Temple/Palace on Earth”

  1. Alan Says:

    Hi Bobby,

    On this we agree. Good post.


  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Alan you have confused me greatly. I am delighted that you think this is a good post. Yet there the previous posts and this one stand together brother. I am just asking … did you read it before you had your coffee, 😉

    Bobby Valentine

  3. Laymond Says:

    Bobby I am no Daniel but I interpret “New Jerusalem” in a totally different way from your interpretation.

    Rev 21:2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

    Rev 21:9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

    Bobby I do believe the “Lamb’s wife” refers to “Christ’s Church”

    Rev 21:12 And had a wall great and high, [and] had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are [the names] of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:

    Rev 21:14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

    If we look closely we see who laid the foundation of this great city, the twelve apostles who Jesus left to do just that.

    Rev 22:14 Blessed [are] they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
    Rev 22:15 For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

    Bobby if you are right about “New Jerusalem” being the renewed earth where God dwells with his people, will the above verse apply?

    I trust in my belief that “New Jerusalem” refers to Christ’s Church, where God does now reside with his people.

    May God bless

  4. Laymond Says:

    And by the way Alan, you confuse me too.

  5. John Roberts Says:

    Bobby, don’t intend to weigh in on the debates, but have loved the articles and the ensuing commentaries by all concerned. Entertaining and enlightening. Have thoroughly enjoyed it. (As well as confirming what I have come to understand already.)
    Well thought out and ably defended. Thanks for the good work. C&P material! (cut and paste 😉 – in other words, worthy of saving and reading again.)

  6. Alan Says:

    Hi Bobby and Laymond,

    Don’t worry, sometimes I confuse myself too. 😉

    I have no problem with the parallels between Eden and heaven. That’s a pretty interesting thing to contemplate. We have been given only sketchy information about the exact nature of Eden. We also have pretty sketchy information about the exact nature of the new Jerusalem. But the two have some obviously similar characteristics. I have no problem calling the new earth a “renewed and glorified earth,” but I might not mean the same thing that you mean when you say that. I prefer the term “new heaven and new earth” since that is how it is phrased in Rev 21:1. But I won’t split hairs over that.

    I have a different view from Bobby on the form of Jesus at the present time, and about how he will appear at the second coming. I also have a different view about the degree to which our physical bodies will be changed at the resurrection, per 1 Cor 15.

    I don’t doubt that we likewise have different views of the nature of the “new earth” in comparison to the “first earth” as mentioned in Rev 21:1. But I didn’t notice anything in the current blog post that explicitly contradicts what I believe the scriptures say on the subject.

  7. Falantedios Says:

    In “Christ Plays In 10,000 Places,” Eugene Peterson marks a strong contrast between Creation and Environment. He comes out passionately in favor of the word Creation to describe everything around us, because while the word Creation INCLUDES us in everything around us, Environment excludes us from everything outside of ourselves.

    Why does this matter? Just this: We are PART of Creation. There is no part of our living self that is NOT created. There is no DIVINE SPARK that dwells within us. If CREATION gets annihilated, WE get annihilated, and all that is left is God. This, I believe, is part of why “resurrection of the body” and “non-annihilation” were fighting doctrines in the second and third centuries.

    in HIS love,

    in HIS love,

  8. Messianic Gentile Says:

    Amen Again. And I really like exploring the Garden as temple. Especially your concentration on building language from Job etc as used for creation. Lots to absorb.


  9. Carisse Says:

    Once I sat behind a little girl at church, maybe 4 or so, who became captivated by the preacher’s description of the beauty of the garden of Eden. Rapt, her face alight, she turned to her mommy eagerly: “Mommy! is it still there?”

    All the heartbreak of the Fall was in the answer.

  10. Danny Says:

    Once again Bobby your scholarship blesses us- throughout this entire study.

    I am still working my way around the renewed earth idea. It seems to make biblical sense to me and while there may be a few points in which I may differ, will it really matter in the end?

    I can debate and argue what heaven may or may not be, but once there I will forget all about that! 🙂

  11. Glynnis Farmer Says:

    Dear Bobby, I finally checked out the blog. It is very interesting and I look forward to spending the time reading the articles you’ve written. I hope Pamella is feeling better and it wasn’t the BBQ that made her sick.
    See you Sunday, Lord willing,

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