Adam’s sin had three major effects: (1) death in the inner and outer man, (2) the cursing of the creation blessing, and (3) the exile of mankind from Eden, the place of God’s presence. The last of these three judgments connects the land theme to the temple theme. Exile, an aspect of the land theme, is connected to removal from God’s presence, an aspect of the temple theme.
Wellum presents this argument in full:
[T]hink of the theme of the garden of Eden as a temple sanctuary. . . . [Greg] Beale convincingly demonstrates that the land of Eden is presented as the archetypal temple, the place where God uniquely dwelt with Adam and Eve as they served God as priest-kings and sons in obedient devotion and worship of God. Adam and Eve’s task was to subdue and rule over the entire earth, which suggests that they were ‘to extend the geographical boundaries of the garden until Eden covered the whole earth,’ which, as Psalm 8 makes clear, was a role that the entire human race was to carry out. . . . [W]hat is significant for our purposes is the close connection between land and temple, and how Eden serves as the archetype which both the land of Israel and the later tabernacle/temple are patterned after.
When we combine all of these points and set the land promise in the context of creation, we have biblical warrant to view the ‘land’ as a type and pattern of creation. In this reading, the archetype is the land of Eden, whose borders are to be extended to the entire creation. [Kingdom through Covenant, 710-11.]
Martin makes this the thesis of his book:
The aim of the present study is to demonstrate that the land promised to Abraham advances the place of the kingdom that was lost in Eden and serves as a type throughout Israel’s history that anticipates the even greater land—prepared for all of God’s people throughout history—that will come as a result of the person and work of Christ. In other words, the land and its blessings find their fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth won by Christ. [Bound for the Promised Land, 17.]
He also draws a tight connection between temple and the new creation by following G. K. Beale in identifying the New Jerusalem, spoken of in Revelation in temple terminology, with the entire new creation:
Instead of the temple being the exclusive place of God’s presence, John declares that the entire ‘paradisal city-temple of Revelation 21:1-22:5 encompasses the entirety of the newly created earth.’ The most evident sign of this city-temple is its perfectly cubic shape (21:16). This glorious description is like no other previous place on earth, but is more akin to the holy of holies (1 Kgs 6:20). Thus the new earth now serves as the place of God’s presence. [Martin 135 citing Beale, “Revelation (book),” NDBT, 358.]
Leaving aside the issue of typology for now, I will here argue that the Progressive Covenantalist formulations on the connection between Eden, land, temple, and new creation must receive a mixed verdict. There are some insightful connections made but also some mis-steps.
Was Eden a Temple?
I have previously argued that when looked at in detail Beale’s arguments that Eden was a temple fail to hold up. This does not mean that there is no Eden-temple connection. I would agree with Daniel Block’s assessment:
In my response to reading Gn 1-3 as temple-building texts, I have hinted at the fundamental hermeneutical problem involved in this approach. The question is, should we read Gn 1-3 in the light of later texts, or should we read later texts in light of these? If we read the accounts of the order given, then the creation account provides essential background to primeval history, which provides background for the patriarchal, exodus, and tabernacle narratives. By themselves and by this reading the accounts of Gn 1-3 offer no clues that a cosmic or Edenic temple might be involved. However, as noted above, the Edenic features of the tabernacle, the Jerusalem temple, and the temple envisioned by Ezekiel are obvious. Apparently their design and function intended to capture something of the original environment in which human beings were placed. However, the fact that Israel’s sanctuaries were Edenic does not make Eden into a sacred shrine. At best this is a nonreciprocating equation.
[Daniel I. Block, “Eden: A Temple? A Reassessment of the Biblical Evidence,” in From Creation to New Creation: Biblical Theology and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of G. K. Beale, eds. Daniel M. Gurtner and Benjamin L. Gladd (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2013), 20-21.]
In sum, though the tabernacle and temple looked back to the garden of Eden and the loss of the presence of God that occurred with humanity’s exile from the garden, the garden itself was not a temple.The reality was present in the garden so the symbol (tabernacle/temple) did not need to be present.
However, I do agree with Wellum that mankind was to spread the geographical boundaries of the garden, as it were, by subduing the entire world. Thus there is a close connection between the initiation of the land theme in the Creation Blessing of Genesis 1:26-29 and the fulfillment of that theme in the new creation.
Is the New Jerusalem the New Creation?
The argument that the New Jerusalem is the new creation is also problematic.
In justifying this interpretation Beale says that it is “an interpretive and theological problem” for John to see the new creation in Revelation 21:1 and the New Jerusalem in 21:2, 10-21. He asks, “How can we explain the apparent discrepancy that he saw a new heaven and earth in verse 1 and then saw only a city in the shape and structure of the temple in the remainder of the vision” (The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 365-66).
However, it is not clear that there is a discrepancy. As Beale himself notes, “It is possible, of course, that he merely first sees the new world and then sees a city-temple in that world.” Beale rejects that solution because he says John “seems to equate” the two. As evidence he notes that no uncleanness will be permitted in the city, when it is well-established that there will be no uncleanness permitted in the entire new creation. He also claims that Revelation has a pattern in which what is seen is later interpreted by what is heard or vice versa, giving as an example the time when John hears of the Lion of the tribe of Judah but sees a Lamb (Rev. 5:5-6) (Ibid., 366-67).
First, that no uncleaness is permitted in both the new creation and the New Jerusalem does not necessarily mean the two are the same.
Second, the parallel with Revelation 5 is inexact. In Revelation 21 John sees both the new creation and the New Jerusalem before hearing about the New Jerusalem. It is not that he sees the New Creation and then hears about the New Jerusalem. He sees the New Jerusalem and then hears about it.
Finally, there are indications in the text that the new creation and the New Jerusalem are distinct. In the first place, the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven (21:2, 10). By saying that he “saw a new heaven and a new earth” directly before saying that he saw the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, John seems to imply that he saw the city coming out of the new heaven to the new earth. In addition, for the nations to walk by the light of the city and for kings to bring their glory in through its gates (21:24-26) implies that there are nations and kingdoms in the new creation outside of the New Jerusalem. This thesis is strengthened by the fact that in Isaiah 60, a passage alluded to here, verses 3, 10, 16 refer simply to kings. John adds “of the earth.” Thus John’s vision seems to affirm that all of God’s people dwell in New Jerusalem (21:12-13) wile also envisioning the people of God filling the entire new creation as nations with kings who reign under the King of kings.
The interpretation presented here are, I believe, more exegetically defensible than those proposed by Beale and adopted by Progressive Covenantalists. But they require no major alteration to the Progressive Covenantalists’ argument. For them the New Jerusalem symbolizes the whole new creation. Presumably this new creation is not just one large city, and presumably people live all over the new earth. But also presumably the Messiah reigns from a city. We might as well call it the New Jerusalem. And now we are back to a situation fairly close to what Revelation 21 describes.
The New Jerusalem and the Temple Theme
In addition to identifying the New Jerusalem as the new creation, Progressive Covenantalists identify the New Jerusalem with the temple. The connection between New Jerusalem and temple is made on the basis of its cubic shape, which was the shape of the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle/temple (Martin, 155).
Though the symbol of tabernacle/temple is replaced by the reality of God’s presence in the new creation (21:22), an allusion back to the symbol in the shape of the city is reasonable. An explicit connection to the temple theme is the identification of the New Jerusalem as “the dwelling place [σκηνή] of God . . . with man” (21:3; cf. Ex. 25:8). Another reason to connect temple and New Jerusalem is that the city is identified as the “Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9; cf. Eph. 2:22).
Nonetheless, a refinement of the Progressive Covenatalist view is in order. Based on the cubic shape of the city, it seems best to identify the New Jerusalem not simply with the temple imagery in general but with the Holy of Holies in particular. The Holy of Holies was the place where God was symbolically enthroned between the cherubim (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kings 19:14-15), and the New Jerusalem is the place where God and the Lamb is enthroned (Rev. 22:1). If the symbolism of the Holy of Holies is fulfilled in the New Jerusalem, then it remains plausible for the symbolism of the temple as a whole to be fulfilled in the new creation as a whole.
Much of the Progressive Covenantalist viewpoint remains intact with the above analysis. The land theme and the temple theme remain related, the temple theme is seen as fulfilled in the new creation, and the land theme is also fulfilled in the new creation.
However, there are some differences.
First, there is no direct connection between the Abrahamic covenant’s land promises and the temple/New Jerusalem theme. On this understanding when Abraham is looking for a better country than the Canaan he sojourned in, the city he receives is not the entire new creation but Jerusalem, the chief city of the land promised to him (Heb. 11:16). This is not to deny that a connection exists between the Abrahamic covenant and the new earth nor is it to deny that Abraham is “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). It is to say that such connections cannot be directly based on the unpacking of this theme.
The second difference between the analysis proposed here and Progressive Covenantalism is the greater weight given here to the reality of nations in the new creation.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture.