Christian or not, you are likely familiar with the Bible’s creation story, where God created everything in just under a week’s time. (He rested on the seventh day.) You know how He created light, separating it from the darkness. How he formed the stars and planets and brought forth land from the waters. He then filled the earth with all the plants, birds, fish, and animals. Then, as the epitome of His creation, He made mankind in His image.
You also have likely heard the story of how He put the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, and gave them the right and the authority to cultivate, build, grow, multiply, and fill the earth. That is until the serpent showed up and threw everything back into chaos.
Scott, Do You Really Believe Those Stories?
I actually believe it is very sad that these stories have been cast aside by many in the church today as children’s stories, or worse, fables to be disbelieved altogether. The reality is that so much of the Bible hinges on the verifiable truth of the Genesis account, that to throw it aside, will also require giving up major parts of the Christian faith.
To give just one example, if Adam was a mythical figure and not a literal person, then what do we do with Paul’s adamant statement that Jesus is the second Adam?
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. Romans 5:12, 15
If Adam was only a metaphor, then what is Jesus? Needless to say, I do believe the Genesis account of creation is accurate, which is continually reflected through my writings.
Eden: Heaven on Earth
As we begin to look at this story, I continually look in awe at how many times the Bible and Christian authors, philosophers, and thinkers throughout the ages have expressed the biblical idea of getting back to the garden of Eden. Here is one of my favorites:
We must come to understand that life in the Garden of Eden was God’s perfect plan for all eternity. We must remember that when God created Adam and Eve, there was no death. There was no “when we die, we go to heaven,” because they wouldn’t die, and heaven was already there.
Not only was the garden full of everything necessary for sustaining life — food, water, building materials, etc. — but the garden was also the place where God would walk among His creation. There was no need to pray for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. Eden was not just a utopia. In the most literal sense, Eden was heaven on earth.
The First Temple
For many Jewish scholars, Eden is also considered to be God’s first temple on earth.1 It shares many of the same characteristics, such as its eastward orientation (Genesis 2:8; ), the rivers which flowed out of it (Genesis 2:10; Ezekiel 47:1-12, Zechariah 14:8), the precious stones listed (Genesis 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7, 11, 17, 31), the Cherubim standing guard. (Genesis 3:24; Exodus 25:18-22) There are so many parallels, that John H. Walton writes:
Genesis 2 is not trying to develop the idea that Eden is the place of God’s presence, or the holy of holies of the cosmic temple. Those are givens that are simply assumed by author and audience.”
D. A. Neal & John Anthony Dunne, “Eden, Garden of,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Mankind as God’s Holy Priesthood
If the Garden of Eden is set up as the place where God’s Presence would dwell on earth, with mankind, and the place from which His authority and rule would go out, then it should not be a surprise that when God created mankind in His image, it was to act as His representation on the earth. God was the King, but mankind was His legal representation to the creation. Or, to use Biblical terminology, all of mankind was a royal priesthood before the Lord. This is why God would commission Adam in his work:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. Genesis 1:26-28(emphasis mine)
Although Adam had free reign over the earth outside the garden, he was also given certain limitations as to touching the things of God:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (emphasis mine)
This one commandment of the Lord would be the defining mark that Adam and Eve were righteous toward God and would remain in relationship to Him.
Everything was Very Good
So God created everything. And this creation was not supposed to be separate from God. It wasn’t a temporary holding place for humanity, until one day they would enter God’s presence for eternity in heaven. No! God’s full intention was to dwell together with His creation, within His creation, having fellowship and sharing life with them.
After He had made everything, placing mankind in the garden, granting them their authority in the earth, and being happy with His work, God said that “it was very good.” He then rests on the seventh day.
So What The Heck Happened?
If God made everything perfect and right and had eternal plans for this creation, then why is that not what we see today? Why the wars, and violence, and poverty, and famine, and sin upon sin?
We rejected heaven. That’s what happened.
One day when God had left the Garden for a time (possible on His day of rest, although scripture isn’t specific), another voice appeared in the garden. The serpent in the Garden, who like the Garden was also a blend of heavenly and earthly, showed up and challenged the whole thing.
This demon-serpent spoke to Eve (in front of Adam) and called into question whether God’s plan for them was actually good enough. He promised them more. He told them that if they would overstep the boundaries God set, they would go beyond themselves and become more.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 (emphasis mine)
The devil called into question the Word of God — the rule by which heaven and earth could co-exist. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, a tear was made in God’s creation.
When God returns to the garden, new vocabulary comes into use. Adam says I heard You coming and “I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). The holy relationship between Adam and Eve was broken in the heart of man. Before God spoke a single curse, the relationship was already dissolving.
And Heaven Departed From the Earth
Immediately, when God begins to speak in response, we learn that the roots of sin would now affect everything on the earth. Creation would now default to producing thorns and thistles, and man would need to work hard to produce his fruit. Women’s fruitfulness, too, would be difficult and painful. And from this time, forward, mankind would be in a continual struggle with the demon-serpent who deceived them. Then they would die (See Genesis 3:14-19).
The blessings of God departed. The protection of God departed. Worst of all, the presence of God departed. Heaven itself left the earth, and an angel was placed at the gates to ensure that no man would be able to pass between them. (Note: The cherubim guards the way to the tree of life — Genesis 3:24 — which according to Revelation 22:1-2 is located just near God’s throne. It did not remain on the earth.)
Through the failure of obedience of Adam and Eve, everything in creation was turned over to a new king. As mankind turned their loyalty to Satan, through a rejection of God’s Word, their dominion in the earth was taken over by him.
He is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” who sets the “course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2).
Since that day, our struggle is that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
It’s Not The End of the Story
The fall of man really did happen, and from it, the rest of the Bible takes shape. Yes, God promises redemption. God promises restoration of all things. There is salvation and healing for humanity.
The Bible looks forward to the day, promised by John, when “the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31) and will be thrown into chains in the bottomless pit, unable to deceive the nations any longer (Revelations 20:3).
However, there is a lot of middle ground to cover, before we get there.
Over the next few weeks, we will pick up on this cosmic battle, and find our place in the story as the redeemed of God, living in the enemy’s territory. We will talk about our call to live righteously as ambassador’s for God’s Kingdom, now, and how we can keep ourselves free from the devil’s influence and control. Then, finally, we will look at what the Bible says about God’s final consumption of all things when a new heaven and new earth will come, fully united once again.
1 For more on this concept, see the book, “The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God” by G.K. Beale
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Anthony Scott Ingram