Adam and Eve lived in a walled garden, with one entrance on the east side. It was a high place, for out of it flowed the river of Eden in four heads. These rivers hint at traffic with the lands beyond, with abundant food in the garden and gold and precious stones downstream. As the high place, it was the meeting place of God and man, the first sanctuary. Adam was placed in the garden to serve—to tend and cultivate—and also to keep—to guard the way to the Tree of Life and the Word. The fall removed this foretaste of glory, exiling man from the direct presence of God. And there was evening and there was morning.
For centuries, men had no sanctuary. The Sons of God, the godly line of Seth, walked with God. The prophet Enoch called the wicked to repentance. But there was no place where men could approach God, no place where God caused his name to dwell with his people. God gave Noah plans for the ark, a temporary sanctuary from the coming flood. The world was taken apart and a new world was built. And there was evening and there was morning.
The patriarchs still operated at a far remove. Their sanctuaries were open-air affairs gathered around not flowing water but oases or wells dug in the wild land. Here Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob called or proclaimed the name of God—the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. The people around recognized the blessing and wisdom of God on them, and many of those who believed were gathered into the household of the Hebrews. After the move to Egypt, the glory of the patriarchs was broken, hammered and flattened out so that it was no longer a blood dynasty ruling over the household, but one people advised and led by their elders. And there was evening and there was morning.
God, with his strong arm and outstretched hand brought his people up out of Egypt and showed Moses the heavenly pattern for a new sanctuary, the Tabernacle, the dwelling place of God with men, built from the spoils of Egypt. Now again they had a walled and guarded sanctuary, but only the house servants, the priests, could come near. They camped around God’s tent to serve and to guard. God lived in the midst of his people Israel, visibly manifest in the cloud and fire. I will be your God and you shall be my people. But the way of approach was still [mostly] barred. The water no longer had to be dug out of the ground but was collected above the bronze firmament in the courtyard. The near-bringings were washed with water from above.
In the judging of the judges, the people wandered from their God, casting a sidelong glance toward their neighbors and their neighbors’ gods, taking their yoke upon them and languishing under their hand. The High Priest and his sons were killed. The Tabernacle, the center of the world of the Hebrews, was dismantled, the tent in Shiloh, the ark in Kiriath-jearim, and the ephod with a wandering priest. And there was evening and there was morning.
God gave the kingdom to a shepherd warrior and showed him the pattern of the new glory. Your son shall build a house for my name. And so he did, with the spoil of David’s battles with the Egyptian Philistines. Solomon also traded the abundant food of the land for stone and timber floated down river. The house was glorious—no longer a skin and cloth-covered tent, but a solid house of stone and timber, gold, silver, and bronze, four times larger than the Tabernacle. Flowers, palm trees, and fruit were carved into the gold-covered walls; giant lilies wrapped in pomegranates adorned the entrance, all recalling the ancient garden sanctuary. The bronze firmament was expanded to hold a sea of water above, supported on the strong backs of the tribes of Israel. Stationary but wheeled water-chariots lined the courtyard, hinting at a flow of water from the sanctuary. It did not yet leave the courtyard. As the time of the kings went on, the glory of the temple became like a worn out garment, the gold and silver stripped and replaced with bronze. The kingdom fell apart, northern Israel carried away by Assyria and southern Judah by Babylon. And there was evening and there was morning.
Seventy years Jerusalem lay in ruins. Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration temple, or rather the heavenly pattern and spiritual reality behind it, was another increase in glory. Rather than just the one eastern entrance, huge gates opened east, north, and south, with palm trees carved in the jambs. The temple had the same dimensions as Solomon’s, with the same garden-themed carvings of palm trees and cherubim, but the surrounding courtyard was larger and was surrounded by another courtyard for the people. The inner and outer courts, and the whole city itself were all square, extending the holy place outward, making the whole temple mount holy. The city had three gates on each side, each named for the tribes of Israel. There was no bronze sea, and the water chariots had now become a river flowing out and growing deeper as it went. It made salt water fresh, drinkable, life-giving. The fish of the rivers and sea were to live by it. Fruit trees with leaves of healing grew on its banks. The water had indeed begun to flow. Daniel was the chief advisor to the king of Babylon, Nehemiah the cup-bearer to the king of Medo-Persia. Cyrus and Darius sent the Jews back to the land loaded with provisions to rebuild the temple and then the city. The outward glory of the Restoration temple was not as grand as that of Solomon, but the spiritual reality behind it, given in Ezekiel’s vision, was far more so. The life and influence of the sanctuary of God was beginning to flow outward toward the lands beyond. Synagogues grew up in nearly every city throughout the empire. In time this, too, waned. The Jews, not seeing the glory they had been given, lusted after the power and glory of Rome. They knew not the day of their visitation. And there was evening and there was morning.
Repent! The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus came not to restore the kingdom to Israel but to inaugurate a new and final kingdom and sanctuary. Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again. The vision given to John in the Revelation of Jesus Christ of the Bride, the Church, the New Jerusalem is not merely a return to the garden sanctuary, but is the culmination, the wrapping up and gathering together of all the glory of the sanctuaries that have unfolded in history. It is a glorious garden city, foursquare and mind-bogglingly enormous, some 1500 miles to a side and walled all around. The tribe-of-Israel gates always stand open, allowing the faithful of the nations to enter. The city has no temple; there is no longer one place where God has chosen to cause his name to dwell, no more house of timber, stone, and metal, but a house of living stones. The people of God are built up to be the house of God. This is a mutual indwelling. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the sanctuary of the people. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. The bridal city is the city on the hill that gives light to the earth. The river of the water of life flows out from the throne in the midst of the city. Along the river grow trees of life with leaves of healing for the nations. The way to the tree of life is finally restored to men.