Sacred Space

Our weeks are busy with stuff. And the weekend comes, where we try to cram in more stuff…with the family. So where does church fit in? Is it just one more event to squeeze in the calendar? Oftentimes we find ourselves so tired from celebrating the end of the week, that the only motivational pull we conjure to drag ourselves into church on Sunday morning is a sheer sense of duty. Why do you go to church? Is it for moral instruction on how to live throughout the week? My neighbors are pretty moral people, and they don’t need church every Sunday for that. Maybe it’s because you look forward to seeing some friends there. Perhaps you go to church so that your children will learn about God.  Many of you are probably thinking the obvious; we go to church to worship God. Well, today, many feel free to worship God on the golf course, or even at a concert. Why do we need church? And why do we need Sunday worship, when we can worship our Creator and Lord throughout the week? What is it about Sunday? In the next couple of articles, we are going to examine just that. For our first installment, I want to discuss idea of a temple. Before the Fall, Adam actually did get to worship his Creator in his garden. Think about that—the garden was the temple. Bruce Waltke explains in his commentary on Genesis,
It represents territorial space in the created order where God invites human beings to enjoy bliss and harmony between themselves and God, one another, animals, and the land. God is uniquely present here. The Garden of Eden is a temple-garden, represented later in the tabernacle. Cherubim protect its sanctity (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 26:1; 2 Chron. 3:7) so that sin and death are excluded (Gen. 3:23, Rev. 21:8). Active faith is a prerequisite for this home.  Doubt of God’s word or character cannot reside in the garden (p.85).
In this paradise everything was holy. There was no distinction between the common and the sacred. This temple theme continues throughout scripture, but in a very different way after the Fall. Before the Fall, when Adam was given the Cultural Mandate (Gen 1:28), he was operating under one kingdom per se, the kingdom of God. Adam, as Dr. G. K. Beale puts it, was to “expand the garden and God’s sacred presence on earth" (see here).  Of course, after the Fall Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden temple. Their relationship with God has changed now that they have sinned. “As priests and guardians of the garden, Adam and Eve should have driven out the serpent; instead, it drives them out” (Waltke, p.87). In God’s judgment, mankind will toil in their work to be fruitful and subdue the earth as the seed of the serpent battles the seed of the woman. “Humanity is now divided into two communities: the elect, who love God, and the reprobate, who love self (John 8:31-32, 44; 1 John 3:8)” (Waltke, p.93). Thankfully we have the promise of our Redeemer given at the same time (Gen 3:15), so that we know the outcome of this battle. Living in post-resurrection times, we have the beginning fulfillment of this promise. We see this battle between the seeds immediately in Adam and Eve’s offspring. As Cain was sent away as a nomad, we find in Scripture God’s common grace both in his protection, and the abilities to create cultural goods. In his genealogy we are told that  Cain built a city, expanding dominion over livestock, music and the arts, as well as craftsmanship in bronze and iron (Gen 4:16-22). Meanwhile, the Godly line continued through Seth. However, no more is the land sacred. God is no longer uniquely present as he was in the garden. Yet, Beale points out that throughout Genesis, when we see covenants made, they will be in the context of garden-like temples. He gives six elements that are common in the covenants God makes with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:  God appears, they pitch a tent (tabernacle) of the testimony, they are on a mountain, build alters and worship God, are located at Bethel (the house of God), and there is the presence of a tree. Beale explains that the patriarchs are Adam-like figures that are building “little temples” (Gen. 9, 12, 17, 22, 28). These “little temples” point to the big temple in Jerusalem. And yet, the temple in Jerusalem is merely a shadow of the true temple, who is Christ. Jesus stumps the Jews when he alludes to this in John, chapter 2: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v.19b). When we read in John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…,”(1:14), the translation is that the Word “pitched His tent,” or “tabernacled” among us. Beale explains how this represents “God’s coming down to the Holy of Holies in Christ,” and that Jesus is the beginning of the new cosmos of which the temple was symbolizing.  Now that we have this background on the temple, in my next article I will discuss the new creation that Christ has established, the new temple that he is rebuilding, and how Jesus Christ, the new Adam, is enlarging God’s presence on earth.