“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.”
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.