The Presence of God, part 1

In the opening chapters of the Bible an account is given of the creation which centers in man made in the image of God. In chapter two we are introduced to the garden or paradise of God concept as the place of God’s dwelling with man. Chapter three reveals the transgression of Adam and his loss of the Living Presence of God. As seen in the aftermath of Adam’s fall, God’s presence was the dominant, controlling factor in the paradisiacal nature and bliss of the garden of Eden. The grandeur of this marvelous garden is missed when it is sought strictly in terms of its outward, earthly setting. What are rivers of water, fertile soil, fruitful trees, pure gold and precious stones (Gen.2:9-15) without the presence of the Living God? To Adam’s chagrin, he discovered in his separation from God a destructive force that penetrated the very core of his spiritual being, a formidable foe known as death. In keeping with the expressly-stated penalty, Adam experienced the pangs of sin-death immediately, "in the day" he transgressed God’s law (Gen.2:17). His broken relationship with God entailed a loss of life for which his earthly, biological existence could not compensate in quality or quantity. He learned that man out of touch with God is man in touch with dust, "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen.3:19). This was the painful reality of Adam’s separation from the Living Presence.

Adam’s expulsion from the garden was punishment for his offense, but more than this it was the commencement of a redemptive work centered in Christ, the seed of woman, who would in fullness of time bruise the head of Satan and destroy the dominion of sin and death (Gen.3:15; Rom.6:9-14; 2Tim.1:9,10). The reverse side of God’s wrath is God’s mercy. God drove Adam out and shut up Eden (3:22-24) because an immortality of sin and corruption was not his design for man. The surrendering of Adam to sin’s dominion was the first step of God’s grace toward Adam’s deliverance from the bondage of corruption. Absolute rejection for the purpose of absolute reception is a fundamental law of God in the restoration of fallen man. Ultimately this law was applied to Israel, who, under the law, and by the design of God, was Adam personified until the coming of Christ. The event of Israel’s rejection (the cross) was the event of her end-of-the-age reception (Heb.9:15; Rom.11:15).

From Adam’s fall in Genesis 3 to the end of Revelation, the central message of the Bible is paradise lost and paradise restored, except for one very important difference. By Divine design, the restored paradise or city of God (Revelation 21-22) supersedes and transcends the historical, earthly setting of the garden of Eden. The ultimate, eschatological paradise springs from a transformation/re-creation type of restoration that takes on the image of "the second man from heaven" (lCor.15:45-49). In and through the resurrected Christ all things are made new (Rev.21:5). Paul, speaking representatively of Israel, and fully conscious of the transitional character of his time, said, "And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1Cor.15:49). Israel was chosen to bear the image of the first man Adam (who is of the earth, earthy) until the coming of the second man (who is the Lord from heaven), verse 47. The offense of Adam was duplicated and magnified in Israel under the law. Paul said, "the law entered, that the offense might abound" (Rom.5:20; 7:12,13). In this manner bondage to corruption was brought to a head through fleshly Israel, the sons of the bondwoman (Gal.4:21-31; 5:1; Rom.8:15-23). But as with Adam, Israel was made "subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope" (Rom.8:20). The hope of Israel was Christ, "the second man from heaven." Paul said that "Christ became a servant of the Jewish people to maintain the truth of God by making good his promises to the patriarchs" (Rom.15:8, NEB). From that perspective Paul, in anticipation of Israel’s end-of-the-age consummation, made the pointed observation, "And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." This is a reiteration of Christ’s statement, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22).

That which comes to surface here is the transcendental nature of the greater, heavenly paradise – the new Jerusalem of the new creation in Christ (Rev.21-22). The goal of God’s eternal purpose in Christ was not a return to the original, historical paradise. Neither was it God’s intention to restore Israel to her former Old Testament state of affairs. The direction of the promise was onward and upward (Heb.6:1; 11:9-16; Col.3:1-4). The things of the earthly paradise were an image of "things to come" in the transcendental paradise. Between Adam and Christ stood Old Testament Israel in whom the earthly image was taken up and diversified in the multiple types, patterns, and shadows of the law (Col.2:16,17; Heb.8:5; 9:8-11; 10:1). It is not surprising, therefore, to find in Old Testament prophecy symbols drawn from the garden of Eden to picture the future blessedness of Israel (and all nations) in the greater paradise of God revealed by John.

Isaiah, for example, pointed to the time when "the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord" (51:3). In Ezekiel 47 the prophet saw a river which flowed out from the temple, with trees on both banks. Accordingly, it was written, "their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine" (v.12). Zechariah, in the context of God’s judgment on earthly Jerusalem (a destruction whereby the new Jerusalem is revealed) wrote, "And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one" (14:8,9).

The Ultimate State of Glory
As already suggested, the paradisiacal symbols drawn from historical Eden and intermingled with Israel’s Old Testament prophecies and shadows were clear indicators that the restored paradise of God is reached through Israel’s consummation in Christ. This is made clear in John’s disclosure of the perfect state of God’s glory (Rev.21-22). In chapter 21, the New Jerusalem (the Lamb’s wife) is described in terms of the typical, earthly Jerusalem in the land of Canaan. In chapter 22, the city’s abundance of life is set forth in the imagery of the garden of Eden. The symbolisms of the Old Testament garden and city of God are combined to portray the fullness and the glory of the spiritual realities in the heavenly paradise, particularly God’s restored presence among men.

Chapter 21 opens with John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth, the old having fled from before the face or presence of him that sat upon the great white throne (20:11). The new creation brings forth the New Jerusalem from God out of heaven (21:2). The backdrop of its coming is the destruction of the once "faithful city" (Isa.1:21), which became the corrupted, harlot-city (Rev.17:1-6), wherein "our Lord was crucified" (11:8). The New Jerusalem is the bride, the Lamb’s wife (21:9). When the harlot-city falls, the announcement is made, "the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready" (19:1-9).

John is taken to "a great and high mountain" to view "the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Having the glory of God" (21:9-11). It had a great and high wall with twelve gates, on which were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (v.12).
Bear in mind that if salvation is of the Jews, this certainly would take in Israel’s NEW Jerusalem that comes into the place of her OLD Jerusalem. This New Testament fulfillment is accented in verse 14, where we learn that "the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." Unquestionably these were the "foundations" of the city that Abraham looked for, "whose building and maker is God" (Heb.11:10; see Eph.2:20-22). The city is equal in length, breadth, and height, making it a perfect cube (21:16), as typified by the holy of holies in the ancient temple (1 Kings 6:20). John sees no separate temple or house of God in the New Jerusalem, for the whole city is indwelt by "God Almighty and the Lamb" (21:22). There is no need of the sun or moon because of the brightness of God’s glory and the light of the Lamb (v.24). Saved nations walk in the light of it (v.24). The city is inhabited exclusively by those written in the Lamb’s book of life; the wicked "shall in no wise enter into it" (v.27; 22:15).

But there is more. In the first five verses of chapter 22, there is a flow of paradisiacal imagery. John sees the pure river of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On either side of the river is the tree of life, which bare twelve fruits every month, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. The city’s abundance of life is the derivative of Christ’s mission and message (John 10:10). The centrality and predominance of "the throne of God and of the Lamb" reflect the fulfillment of all kingdom prophecies. From the perspective of fallen man the kingdom is restored (Acts 1:6) and established in power (Mark 9:l; Rev.12:10) to the effect that through Christ the saints possess the kingdom (Dan.7:21;22; Heb.12:28). Accordingly, "they shall reign for ever and ever" (22:5; 11:15), for "his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan.7:14; Isa.9:6,7; Luke 1:32,33; Heb.1:8; Rev.11:15).

The Living Presence
An abbreviated journey has been made through centuries of redemptive history (far too briefly) in order to lay the ground work for elaborating on the concept of The Living Presence. It is said of those entering God’s restored paradise that "they shall see his face" (Rev.22:4). The face of God denotes the fullness of his presence and glory. It means redeemed man has been restored to God’s fellowship to the fullest extent possible. But the predominant question is, when and how is this goal reached? Has it been fulfilled in Christ already, or must Christians wait for a future realization of God’s Living Presence in the New Jerusalem? The answer to this question is extremely important. It has a tremendous impact on the way we perceive Christianity and our state and standing in Christ TODAY. This in turn has a bearing on every aspect of our lives, the way we feel, think, live, understand the Bible, worship God, and in general, cope with the daily problems, pressures, and challenges of life.

Often we hear or read statements to the effect that NOW "we see in a glass, darkly, but someday we shall see face to face" – as though Paul’s "now" (1Cor.13:12; 2Cor.3:18) must be made everybody’s "now" throughout all generations. If the Spirit’s completed work in apostolic time did not bring "face to face" vision of God’s glory and presence, it means that the New Jerusalem still is to come, even though the Old Jerusalem (the harlot-city) was destroyed 2000 years ago. The bride still is getting ready for the marriage of the Lamb. It means we have not entered the city of God, that we cannot drink of the water of life, and eat of the tree of life, (unless someone has a water dipper and a fruit picker with exceedingly long handles). Furthermore, if we don’t have the city or paradise of God today, there are no leaves for the healing of the nations (22:2). And what about the invitation of the Spirit and the bride to those athirst to come and "take the water of life freely" (v.17)? Is this invitation merely a dangling carrot to coax the thirsty wanderer through a dry, barren land until the city of God is reached? Is Christianity one long drawn-out wilderness journey toward the heavenly Canaan? We know why God made Israel journey forty years in the wilderness, but has he made Christians (to date) wander fifty times longer? Have we in some manner sinned fifty times worse than did Israel? Or is it possible we have not grasped the full meaning of the forty-year period from the cross to the A.D.70 consummation of Israel? If the city of the presence of God and the Lamb is still future, does this not make Christianity an "absenteeism" religion in the sense that the time of Christ’s absence spans the entire length of the Christian age (from the traditional viewpoint)?

I am fully aware that most Christians believe God and Christ are present today through the Spirit, notwithstanding the considerable disagreement as to the meaning of the Spirit’s presence. But this does not answer questions about the time and meaning of Christ’s absence and the ultimate face to face presence of God. What is the meaning of John 14:1-6? Christ went away to prepare a place for his disciples with the promise of coming and receiving them unto himself. Christ leaves and the Spirit is sent (John 14:26-29). What is the relation between the presence of the Spirit and the absence of Christ? Did the Spirit’s work of showing or disclosing the things to come (the things of Christ given to him of the Father, John 16:12-15), have anything to do with Christ’s preparing a place to receive his disciples unto himself in the house of God’s presence? Is Christ’s work of "preparation" unrelated to the Spirit’s work of "revelation"? Further, if Christ went away in order to be "revealed from heaven" (2 Thess.1:7), would not heaven be the place or realm (the world above, the world to come, the new creation) for "the things of Christ" that the Spirit was sent to "disclose" (John 16:13-16)? Therefore, would not Christ’s work of preparing a place for his disciples be completed when the Spirit’s work of disclosing the things of Christ was finished? (Or is the Spirit still writing "disclosing scripture" today?) What more is needed for the "revelation of Christ" than the completed revelation of "his things" of "his world" wherein one obtains the paradisiacal blessings revealed by John in Revelation 21-22? Was not John writing about things which were "at hand," and which would "shortly come to pass" (Rev.1:1-3; 22:6-10), which is called The Revelation of Jesus Christ (l:l)?

The Tabernacle of God
Questions of equal magnitude about the WHEN and HOW of God’s restored presence are raised in the "tabernacle of God" passages. In connection with the coming of the new Jerusalem John said he heard a great voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev.21:3). Are we waiting still for this tabernacle of God’s restored presence? In the Old Testament the tabernacle, first in the wilderness and later in the temple, was the place of God’s dwelling with Israel (Lev.26:11). His presence, however, was restricted to the "holy of holies" (Ex.25:22; Isa.37:16), which was entered by the high priest alone once every year with the blood of atonement for himself and the sins of Israel (Heb.9:7). The earthly "holy of holies" was a type of the greater tabernacle to come, wherein all of God’s people have access to the open, unrestricted presence of God.

Is not Rev. 21:3 the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, where God promised to make "a covenant of peace" with Israel, and set h
is "sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore?" At that time, God said, "My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore" (vv.26-28). Can Pentecost be made the fulfillment of this tabernacle promise, since years later it is one of the things revealed by John that shortly would come to pass? If not Pentecost, is the only alternative the end of the Christian age? Or could its fulfillment be tied to the destruction of the temple, the passing of the earthly sanctuary (Heb.9)? From this perspective is not Christ’s entrance as the forerunner "into that within the veil" (Heb.6:19,20), correspondent to his entrance "into the holiest of all not made with hands" (9:8-12)? Furthermore, is not "that within the veil" (the holiest of all) called "heaven" in verse 24, meaning the heavenly sanctuary of the New Covenant of which the Old Covenant tabernacle was a type (8:1-6; 9:23-24)? Were not the saints of that day exhorted to have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (10:19-39)? And was not this exhortation based on the fact that they could see the day approaching (10:25); that the Old Covenant state of affairs was ready to vanish away (8:13)? Could this end-of-the-age consummation be the focus of John 14:1-6, and the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to receive his disciples unto himself, "that where I am, there ye may be also" (v.3)? Bear in mind that Christ, as a forerunner, entered into "heaven" or into "that within the veil." From that viewpoint, would not being received into heaven, or into the "holiest of all" (the place of God’s presence, Heb.9:24), be the fulfillment of John 14:1-6; Heb.9:8; 10:19-39? Are we failing to see that sometimes heaven or heavenly are used to denote the New Covenant realm or state of glory in contrast to Israel’s earthly, Old Covenant mode of existence? If Israel’s earthly tabernacle has passed away, and the heavenly antitype still has not arrived, does this not make Christianity a "tabernacle-less" gap between Israel’s earthly and their promised heavenly tabernacle? But if Christianity is the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37:26-28, have we not been brought into the greater tabernacle of God’s presence and dwelling among his people (Rev.21:3)?

These and many other texts and questions pertaining to the coming of the New Jerusalem and the restored presence of the Living God will be dealt with in this series of articles. We will examine the New Testament setting against the Old Testament background for the ultimate, eschatological arrival of "the things to come" (John 16:13) given to Christ of the Father, otherwise known as "the heavenly things," or "the things in the heavens" (Heb.9:23). This not only has a bearing on understanding the time and manner of Old Testament fulfillment; it is crucial for understanding the meaning and fullness of Christianity today, and our rich heritage in Christ.