By the time I turned forty, I had lived in twenty-five different houses in seven different states. Relocating became standard fare for me during what many call “the formative years.” By way of contrast, my wife lived in the same house until she left for college. For ten years, I pastored a church in a military town that has 400 percent turnover. I suppose that my upbringing helped prepare me for weathering the unique dynamics that come with pastoring a church in such a town. Nevertheless, where Christians live is not something incidental or unimportant. The Scriptures actually have a great deal to say about the significance of where we live. Jesus went to the cross to prepare a final home for believers in the new heavens and new earth.
As He approached Jerusalem and the sufferings that He was about to endure there, Jesus told His disciples:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1–3).
The imagery of “the Father’s house” is drawn from the language about the temple in the Old Testament. Solomon’s temple was the place of God’s dwelling with His people. In the temple, there were rooms for the priests to live in and from which they served. Jesus was eternalizing what the temple had typified and speaking about the implications of it for the believer in the hereafter. He had come into this world to “prepare a place” for believers. He was going to the cross to make room for those He came to redeem by shedding His blood for their sins. By shedding His blood, Jesus made room for His people in the everlasting temple—the new heavens and new earth in which He would dwell with His own for all eternity.
In turn, Jesus’ teaching about securing a dwelling place for His people in the eternal temple is built on the biblical teaching regarding the various dwelling places of God with His people throughout redemptive history. The biblical metanarrative carries us from the garden of Eden (the place of man’s original dwelling) to the new heavens and the new earth. As it does, it moves us from the garden of Eden to the land of Israel, from the land of Israel to the incarnate Christ, from the incarnate Christ to His dwelling in and with the church by His Spirit, and from His dwelling in and with the church to His dwelling with His bride in the new heaven and earth. The Scriptures carry us along the stepping stones of these various “dwelling places” until we finally arrive at the garden-city bride (Rev. 21–22). The Apostle John envisioned the church—the redeemed bride of the Lamb—coming down out of heaven to dwell with Him in the new heaven and earth. The connection between the garden of Eden and the new heaven and earth is the theological significance of “the ground” out of which God made man.
Eden was a special dwelling place—a unique land—in which God placed man at creation. God had created man from “the ground” outside of the garden and then, by His grace, placed His image bearer in this paradisiacal sacred space. It was a precursor to the promised land. God formed man out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). The ground (Hebrew adamah) was man’s original environment. In fact, there seems to be an intentional play on words in Genesis 2:7, where we are told that the Lord formed adam (man) out of the adamah (the ground). There is a clear connection between the ground and the man who was formed out of the ground. The name Adam means “red.” Since he was made out of the reddish clay of the ground, the name is a play on the word “ground”(adamah).
The ground was the sphere of blessing and fruitfulness for mankind at creation. Eden was the sphere of God’s richest blessing. God intended to create an image bearer who would work the ground and who would turn the world into the temple, extending the borders of the garden-temple out into the far reaches of the earth. Because God made man from the dust of the ground, this sphere of blessing would become the source of fruitfulness. Man was taken out of the ground and was created to work the ground. Adam was made to be fruitful and multiply, and to dress and keep the garden. Adam was to work the ground and take the garden out into the world. His task was to turn the world into the garden-temple.
No sooner do we read about the garden-paradise of Eden than we read about man forfeiting his privilege of dwelling with God in this place. In the pronouncement of judgment on man (Gen. 3:17–19), we find that the sphere of blessing—the place of man’s origin—was turned into a cursed, thorny, barren wilderness. Man would now have to suffer toilsome labor in order to cultivate the ground out of which God had made him. The ground was cursed on account of Adam’s sin. Adam was taken from the ground, but Adam rebelled against his Maker, so God cursed the very place out of which He made man.
Adam’s sin—together with the depravity and corruption that he brought on all his descendants—manifested itself in the worst way in the life of his firstborn son. Cain killed his brother, shedding Abel’s blood into the ground that Cain, incidentally, tilled as a vocation. The Lord confronted Cain with these words: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Cain had sought to hide the body of his brother in the ground, but the blood of Abel cried out to God for vengeance and judgment on Cain.
The author of Hebrews picked up on the idea of Abel’s blood crying out when he set out the privileges that belong to the members of the new covenant church:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem . . . to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:18–24)
Abel was a righteous man who put his faith and trust in the promised Redeemer (Gen. 3:15). Abel also serves as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Cain—the seed of the serpent—murdered Abel, the seed of the woman, so the apostate Jews and unbelieving Romans murdered Jesus (Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:23–38; John 8:44; Rev. 12:1–5). There is, however, a contrast between Abel and Jesus. The blood of Abel cried out from the ground for judgment on the ungodly; the blood of Jesus cries out for redemption and salvation for all those for whom Jesus died. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized under the realization of what He would suffer for His people. Luke tells us that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The blood of Jesus fell into the cursed ground when He was in the garden and when He hung on the cross. On the cross, He secured the restoration of this world that had been subjected to futility on account of Adam’s sin (Rom. 8:20). When He hung on the cross, Jesus wore the crown of thorns—the symbol of the curse of God upon the ground. He was showing Himself to be the sin-bearing last Adam who came to regenerate the entire cosmos by His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul captures this truth when he says that God’s eternal plan was to “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10).
This idea is strengthened by the linguistic relationship between the Hebrew word for “land: and “earth.” The word aretz can be translated either as “land” or “earth.” It is used in Genesis 12:1, where God promises Abraham that he will inherit the “land.” One can immediately see how Paul understands the development from the idea of the land of Israel (as being the typical inheritance) to the inheritance of the entire world. God’s promise to Abraham functioned on two levels: (1) the typical, earthly promise, and (2) the eschatological realization of this promise in the new heavens and new earth.
It is, in fact, the case that Abraham’s descendants (those who have faith in Christ; see Gal. 3)become heirs of the “world” in Him who overcame and received the inheritance of the world from His Father. In Christ, we too become heirs of God and of the world. This is also the explanation of the words of our Lord, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5), and Peter’s reference to new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). Believers will come to possess “all things,” as the Apostle explains in Romans 8.
In the book of Revelation, all of the places that were representative of the sphere of God’s blessing (the garden, land, and city) become descriptions of the church. Redeemed humanity becomes the sacred space of God’s dwelling, the eschatological sphere of blessing. The covenant promise that God would dwell with and inHis people is typified by His various dwelling places from Eden to Christ, and then from Christ to the new heavens and new earth.
The interchangeability of biblical language—in which the church is likened to a garden, land, city, and temple—is founded upon the fact that man is taken from the original dwelling place of God with man (the earth/land/ground). It is only through the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ that the ground is redeemed, and man again enjoys (and now to a much greater degree) the blessings of God on the land. The blessings of Christ on the land are really typical of His blessings on His people. It will be fully realized in His dwelling with His people in the new heavens and new earth—a completely renovated habitation in which only righteousness dwells. It is image bearers with which God is most concerned. The environment of God’s dwelling with redeemed mankind is the totality and comprehensiveness of His riches in Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews suggests that all of this was God’s original intention for Adam and has been now accomplished by the last Adam, Jesus Christ. “We do not,” he wrote, “see all things put under mankind” in world to come, “but we see Jesus.” He has secured this habitation by His death on the cursed tree. In this way, we can say that “he came to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”
*This post was first published at Tabletalk Magazine on July 27, 2018.