Return to Eden: Part 8 – The Presence of God among Men

What was it like for God to have His relationship with us cut off?  Have you ever taken the time to think about that?  We focus a lot on what sin meant for us, but what about God?

He created us out of a longing to be with beings that could choose to love Him.  He wanted, probably even more than we do, to be with us.  And sin broke that relationship.

So He tried to maintain it as best He could after Eden.  But it was never the same.  The sin that we hold on to so tightly kept Him from us.  At times He had relationships with individuals – Enoch, Noah, Abraham – but it wasn’t what He truly desired.

So in the wilderness of Sinai, He decided to change things up.  He commanded Moses to construct a place where He would dwell on Earth.  It was to be patterned exactly after Heaven (see Hebrews 8:5), and God promised that in it He would sit on the throne – the Ark of the Covenant.  That’s why Moses was told to be sure that Angels and gold, and silver, and precious woods were used in the Tabernacle.  It was His attempt at making Heaven on Earth.

But it still wasn’t the same as Eden.  God was there, but only one time per year would humanity be allowed to enter into the throne-room and come before God’s presence.  It was better than nothing, but not what God longed for.

King David longed for that same type of relationship.  He understood, as best as his limited mind could, that God desired to be present among us.  So he asked if he could build a permanent residence in Jerusalem for Him.    David’s history as a warrior and murderer prevented him from building it, but he was given the honor of preparing everything for his son, Solomon, to build it.  And the Temple was stunning.  It was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  It was absolutely glorious.  But it still wasn’t Eden.  And just as with the Tabernacle only one man was authorized to enter before God’s presence in the Temple, and then only once per year.  It was closer to Heaven on Earth, but still not what God desired.

So God again took a different approach.  If man couldn’t enter before His presence in the Temple, He would leave the Temple and come to them:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 ESV

That Greek word for “dwelt” is actually the same as the Hebrew word “tabernacle.”  That verse could just as accurately – maybe even more accurately –  be translated, “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and tabernacled among us.”

That’s why we see Jesus refer to His body as the Temple of God over and over again.  The prophet Ezekiel wrote that he saw God’s presence leave Solomon’s Temple (Ezekiel 10:18).  God wasn’t in the Holy of Holies anymore.  The Temple was never a building.  It was the place that God chose to dwell on Earth.  That’s why Jesus so many times said that the “Temple” would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  He was the Temple.  God was dwelling among the people, and they finally had a relationship with him.  But as much as Jesus was God, He was still man.  He could only be in one place at a time.  His original desire was still not fulfilled.  It still wasn’t Eden.

And then He left.  Forty days after rising from the grave He returned to Heaven.  And God was no longer on the Earth.  But then on Shavuot, God came back.  He returned, this time as His very Breath filled the Believers on Shavuot.  And God was able to be with humanity wherever His people were.

The Temple became His people.  Paul tells us that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Peter goes so far as to tell us that each one of us who receive Jesus have become a Living Stone being built up into God’s dwelling place on the Earth (1 Peter 2:5).  As His people, together we carry God’s presence on the Earth.  It’s closer to what He desires, but we know that it still isn’t Heaven on Earth.  We are broken.  We are weak.  And there are billions who still don’t have a relationship with Him.  It still isn’t Eden.

And a day will come soon, when Jesus will return.  Those of us who have yielded ourselves to Him will be resurrected to live forever in perfect bodies free from the sin that separates us from Him.  And Jesus will begin a thousand years of showing us what this life could have been like had we followed His Torah, and allowed Him to be our Ruler and Messiah.  But there will be those who have yet to receive His Spirit, or been resurrected to new life.  There will be those who will enter into Messiah’s Kingdom rule after the world nearly destroys itself trying to be its own god.  They will live under His rule and reign, but many will still seek to be separated from His presence.  While life during the Millennial Kingdom will be the most amazing experience since Eden, it still will not be Heaven on Earth.  It still won’t be Eden.

That’s why we will continue to observe the Feast of Sukkot.  Zechariah tells us that each year, there will be the command to go up to Jerusalem and remember that, while Jesus will be here ruling, things still won’t be as they were intended  (Zechariah 14:16-19).  And at the end of those thousand years, many will choose separation from God over relationship with Him.  There will be war again.  But when that is finished, God will finally return us to Eden.

Next Post: A New Heaven and a New Earth

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5 Ways My Faith Has Changed After Returning from Israel: The Feasts

My Faith Changed After Returning from Israrel

Have you ever tried to pick up the storyline of a movie after it was half-way over?  Not easy is it?

That’s what most of Christianity has been doing for about 2,000 years.  In fact, we celebrate this approach.  I had a pastor who founded three of the largest churches in my city actually tell me that he tries not to teach the Old Testament because it’s too confusing.  He sticks with the New Testament story.  When children are baptized or dedicated, we give them New Testaments to commemorate the event.  When new Believers ask what they should read, we tell them to start with John and stick to the Gospels.  We ignore the first two-thirds of the story.

This confusion and lack of understanding has hurt us as Christians.  We miss that God laid out His plan for humanity very early on.  The first Christians understood this plan.  They were Jews who had been rehearsing it for 1,500 years.  The plan is seen in the feasts.

You should take a few minutes to read through Leviticus 23.  God’s plan for humanity is described in it.  The cross (Passover).  The burial (Unleavened Bread).  The resurrection (First Fruits).  The Spirit (The Feast of Weeks).  The Second Coming (The Feast of Trumpets).  The Judgment (The Day of Atonement).  The New Heaven and New Earth (The Feast of Tabernacles).

God’s roadmap is there.

And understanding this roadmap makes reading the Scriptures – both the Old and the New Testament – much easier.  You see God’s hand moving to accomplish His plan through these feasts.  Jesus’ teachings take on greater significance.  As do the rest of the New Testament writers.

Understanding the feasts has changed the way I read the Bible.

Want to learn more?  Read Return to Eden here!

5 Ways My Faith Changed After Returning from Israel: Introduction

Return to Eden: Part 3 – Jesus’ First Coming

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  Matthew 27:50-53 ESV

If this is the moment of Jesus’ death, it’s a strange place to insert a discussion of His resurrection.  At the moment that the Messiah dies, Matthew notes that the preparation for Him to rise took place.

Most of us in the Western Church leave it there.  These are the facts: Jesus died.  An earthquake took place.  The veil was torn.  The graves were opened.  When Jesus rose, these graves also gave up their dead.  These risen bodies were seen by many in Jerusalem.  That’s all we need to know.  Just the facts, please.

But that’s not the way to see through the shadows, and into the face of God.   The Western Mind is obsessed with answering the question, “what”.  The Eastern Mind seeks to look beyond that; it seeks to answer, “why”.  So why did Matthew mention these events at this moment in his narrative?

We’ve already seen that the Passover shadowed the work of the Messiah on the cross.  That feast takes place on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar.  However, the Passover meal is eaten after sundown that evening, which according to the Biblical reckoning of time, begins the 15th day of the month.  This meal initiates a seven day celebration known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It reminds Israel that their release from slavery in Egypt was so sudden, that they were forced to eat bread that had not been given time to rise.  But later, leavening became symbolic of sin.  And when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb, He removed the sin from our lives.  He was placed in a tomb, and the Psalmist said that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)  The Feast of Unleavened Bread shadowed the removal of sin from our lives.

And then we come to the first day of the week following the Sabbath that occurs during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This day is called the Feast of First Fruits.  But the preparations for this feast actually began at sundown on Passover.  It is at that moment that the priests would go to the Mount of Olives, and ceremonially bind 10 sheaves of barley, without cutting or actually harvesting it.  This was called “marking the sheaves.”  Then, at the beginning of the first day of the week (which takes place at sundown), the priests would return to the sheaves and in a great ceremony, harvest those first fruits, take the barley into the Temple and grind it into wheat, and prepare loaves of bread that would, the next morning, be ceremonially waved before God in the Temple, as the High Priest shouted, “If God is faithful to bring us the first fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

This is why Matthew chose to make mention of the graves being opened at the moment of Jesus’ death.  And why he also made it clear to his readers that the dead didn’t rise until Jesus did.  He was revealing the shadow of the Feast of First Fruits.

In addition to being the place where the priests would go to bind the sheaves for the offering at the First Fruits, the Mount of Olives is a major cemetery.  It was in Jesus day as well.  It was where some of the most famous and notable Hebrews had been buried.  So when the priests were going out to “mark” the sheaves for the offering, the graves of many were “marked” as well.  And at the moment when the priests harvested these first fruits, Jesus and these others were raised from the dead, as our eternal High Priest shouted to eternity, “If God has been faithful to bring us the First Fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

But the shadows of Jesus first coming don’t end there.  There is one more feast in the spring that Israel was commanded to observe.  And the pictures in it are nothing less than stunning.  In Hebrew it is called “Shavuot.”  You know it today as Pentecost.

Next Post: The Renewal of the Covenant