Heaven & Earth in the Garden of Eden
We describe the space we live in as earth, while the area where God dwells is in heaven. However, in the beginning, the two were one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It’s the earth that God, then, illuminates, adorns, and populates. The construction of the planet resembled, to an ancient audience, that of a holy precinct, or temple.¹ In all ancient temples, images of the deity were placed; hence, humans being created in God’s image. There, as God’s image, we were to represent His identity and do His work.²
When God rested on the seventh day, the meaning that often escapes modern readers that wouldn’t have those of antiquity was that a deity rested in a temple, and only in a temple. That’s why they were built, despite thinking that it was all about sacrifice. A temple was a place of divine rest (cf. Ps. 132:7–8, 13–14) more so than it was a place for worshippers. The sacred space of the earth was God’s resting place, and as such, it was holy.
The first demarcation came after humans ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Once their eyes were opened, God cast them from the Garden lest they, in their state of seeing good and evil, partake of the tree of life and live forever in that state of decay. God, therefore, protected them from the tree of life by placing cherubim at the east entrance of the garden to guard the path to the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24).
However, it doesn’t appear that heaven and earth were then divided. God still comes among Cain after he murdered Abel. Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24). That God took Enoch is enigmatic. Did He take him beyond the cherubim to the protected precinct? We don’t know unless one would place credibility in the Book of Enoch which says that he was taken into heaven (viz., Eden?), a bifurcation which doesn’t appear to have so much existed then as it does now.
Angels consorting with mortals, as depicted in Gen 6:1–8 was the cause of judgment upon the earth and, apparently, a permanent demarcation between heaven and earth, making one realm into two. Afterward, we see Noah construct the first altar (Gen. 8:20). It would appear that humanity can no longer dwell before the Lord, but must officially make atonement for their trespasses. The aroma from the offerings ascends to heaven where God dwells until the tabernacle/temple was constructed. Through these two holy places, heaven comes to stay on earth. After that, atonement needed to be made so that humanity could approach deity, but they could do so at the tabernacle/temple.
The decoration of the holy place and its resemblance to Eden was noted by YHWH worshippers. As the east entrance of the garden was protected by cherubim, so one also approached God from the west where the altar was. After atonement was made, the priest progressed in an eastward direction toward the holy of holies, where the ark of the covenant was and hence God’s presence. There, at God’s presence, is life—reminiscing of the tree of life.
When Jesus came to earth, he “tabernacled” among humans (John 1:14). By so doing, Jesus was able to take pockets of heaven with Him, if you will, and grace the earth with it. Since God had to be kept apart from the world due to its corruption and His holiness, He took on flesh to grace the world with His presence and bring His healing to those whom He encountered. Reminiscent of the seraph who touched the lips of Isaiah to purify him, Jesus in His holiness did not consume the world or humanity but purified it. His death on the cross once more opened access to the tree of life.
In the Greek Old Testament often quoted in the New Testament, the term translated for “garden” is “paradise.” Jesus told the thief beside Him on the cross that he would join Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). Paul was caught up into Paradise to see what no man could see (2 Cor. 12:4). Jesus promised to the overcomers that they would eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7). The perfect atonement of Jesus takes us back to a pre-sinful state so that we can in that state partake of the tree we were forbidden from when we once existed in decay and futility. Praise be to God!
¹ I strongly recommend a reading of John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010).
² John H. Walton, ed., Genesis, in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 21.