The garden of Eden was the first place where God’s space and humanity’s space were one. Read Genesis 3 and discuss how these two spaces were driven apart.
God wants to live with his people, so he made a place (tabernacle/temple) and a practice (animal sacrifice) for humans to be forgiven so that God’s space and humanity’s space could once again overlap. Explore these ideas in Psalm 65:1-4 and Leviticus 4:34-35. Share your observations as a group.
With all the above in mind, share any significant details you notice about Jesus' dwelling, or “tabernacling,” on Earth (see John 1:14) and Jesus being called the Lamb of God (see John 1:29 and Rev. 5:1-12).
Revelation 21 tells us that one day God’s space and humanity’s space will completely overlap. As you read Revelation 21, how does the author describe the tabernacle and the Lamb? Share your observations with the group.
Take time to discuss other themes, questions, or key takeaways from what you learned together.
Tim: So in the Bible, the ideas of Heaven and Earth are ways of talking about God’s space and our space.
Jon: So I understand our space really well. We live here. There are trees, rivers, mountains. But my understanding of God’s space gets a little fuzzy.
Tim: And what we do get in the Bible are images trying to help us grasp God’s space, which is basically inconceivable to us.
Jon: So these are two very different types of spaces.
Tim: Yes. They’re different in their nature. But here’s what’s really interesting, is that in the Bible, these are not always separate spaces. So think of Heaven and Earth as different dimensions that can overlap in the same exact space.
Jon: So we talk a lot about going to Heaven after we die. But this idea of Heaven and Earth overlapping, we don’t talk a lot about that.
Tim: Which is kind of crazy because the union of Heaven and Earth is what the story of the Bible is all about—how they were once fully united, and then driven apart, and about how God is bringing them back together once again.
In the Beginning [01:00-01:43]
Jon: So let’s go back to the beginning where Heaven and Earth—they’re completely overlapping?
Tim: Yeah. This is what the Bible’s description of the garden of Eden is all about. It’s a place where God and humanity dwelt together perfectly, no separation. And humans then partner with God in building a flourishing, beautiful world, and so on1.
Jon: But as humans, we wanted to do things a different way. We wanted God out, and we wanted to create a world apart from him2.
Tim: Yeah, so we have these two spaces now. And the Bible actually uses lots of different kinds of words and phrases to refer to these two spaces to make a clear distinction.
Jon: So you’ve said that these spaces can overlap though, so explain how that works.
The Temple [01:44-03:20]
Tim: Yeah. This is where we have to start talking about temples because in the biblical world, you experience God’s presence by going to a temple. That’s where Heaven and Earth overlap.
Jon: Now there are two types of temples described in the Bible. One is a tabernacle, basically a tent that was built by Moses3. And the other was this massive building made by Solomon4.
Tim: And these temples were decorated with fruit trees and flowers, and images of angels, and all kinds of gold and jewels, and so on5. And these are designed to make you feel like you’re going back to the garden6. And at the center of the temple was a place called the Holy of Holies, which was like the hotspot of God’s presence7.
Jon: Now we can go and be with God again.
Tim: But not so fast because the temple also creates a problem8. So God’s space is full of his presence and goodness and justice and beauty, but human’s space is full of sin and injustice and the ugliness that results9.
Jon: So how do these spaces overlap if they’re so different and they’re in conflict with each other?
Tim: This was resolved through animal sacrifice10.
Jon: Yeah. That’s kind of weird. What do animal sacrifices have to do with this?
Tim: Yeah. The idea is this: animal sacrifices, somehow, they absorb the sin when the animal dies in your place. And it creates a clean space, so to speak, where you are now free to enter into the temple and be in God’s presence11.
Jon: Okay, so if I’m an Israelite and I live in Jerusalem, I might be able to be in God’s presence. But you said the story of the Bible is all of Heaven and Earth reuniting?
Heaven and Earth Overlap in Jesus [03:20- 05:05]
Tim: Right, so we have to keep going in the story where we come to Jesus in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, we hear this claim that God became human in Jesus and “made his dwelling among us”12. Now this word “dwelling” is really curious. It literally means “he set up a tabernacle among us.” And so what John is claiming right here is that Jesus is a temple. He is now the place where Heaven and Earth overlap.
Jon: What’s interesting about Jesus is that he isn’t staying in this safe, clean space13. He’s running around, hanging out with sinners14. He’s healing people of their sicknesses and forgiving people of their sins15.
Tim: He’s basically creating little pockets of Heaven, where people can be in God’s presence. But he’s doing it out there in the middle of the world of sin and death.
Jon: And he keeps telling everyone that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand16.
Tim: And he even told his followers to pray regularly that God’s Kingdom come and that his will be done here on Earth just as it is in Heaven17.
Jon: But a lot of people are threatened by Jesus18, and they kill him, which seems to spoil this whole plan to reunite Heaven and Earth19.
Tim: But we have to go back to a scene earlier on in Jesus’ story, where John the Baptist saw Jesus and said, “Behold, this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”20.
Jon: So Jesus isn’t just talked about as being a temple. He’s also talked about as being the temple sacrifice21.
Tim: Yeah. So the cross is now the place where Jesus absorbs sin to create a clean space that is not limited, like animal sacrifices22. Jesus’ sacrifice has the power to keep spreading and spreading and reuniting more and more of Heaven and Earth23.
The Future: Heaven Comes to Earth [05:05-05:52]
Jon: And this is all really great, but it leaves one big question in my mind, which is: what happens when I die? Don’t I just fly over to God’s space to be with Jesus?
Tim: Yeah, so a few times in the New Testament we learn that Christians will be with Jesus in Heaven after they die. But that is not the focus of the Bible’s story24. The focus is on how Heaven and Earth are being reunited through Jesus and will be completely brought together one day when he returns. So in the book of Revelation, we get this beautiful image of the garden of Eden, now in the form of a city, coming to end the age of sin and death by redeeming all of human history in a renewed creation. And God’s space and human’s space completely overlap once again25 .
1. Genesis 2
2. Genesis 3
3. Exodus 40:16-33
4. 1 Kings 6-7
5. e.g., Exodus 31:1-11
6. Genesis 2
7. 1 Kings 8:10-11
8. Exodus 40:34-35
9. e.g., Genesis 4:8
10. Leviticus 17:11
11. Leviticus 16
12. John 1:14
13. Matthew 4:23
14. Matthew 9:10-13
15. Matthew 9:1-8
16. e.g., Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15
17. Matthew 6:10
18. e.g., Matthew 12:14, John 11:53
19. John 19:28-30
20. John 1:29
21. e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19
22. Hebrews 10:1-14
23. e.g., Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5
24. e.g., John 14:3; Luke 23:42-43; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14